The law of the sea is the foundation for the crucial marine trade that drives our economy which formalizes the key norms of freedom of passage for national security. It allows India to protect, manage, and use the resources of our bordering waters and continental shelf for the sake of the environment and the economy. For centuries, the sea was sole of importance to humanity as a source of food and continue exploiting the norms of the sea and its habitat. After the introduction of legislation such as the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the water bodies have been protected worldwide to secure a chance for future generations to use those water bodies for their very existence. So, why do we need to know about the Law of the sea? What importance does it possess?

As a resident of this planet, people should be aware of the territorial sea’s extent, which administers coastal fish populations, the laws governing straits passage, and a slew of other rules that allow the seas to function harmoniously. We just do not understand the basic laws if some governments claim five nautical miles for their territorial sea and others claim three hundred nautical miles. The rule of law, however, is much more important since it acts as a check on authority.


The international community implemented a holistic framework for legal control of the seas with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Legislation of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, which has developed into a formidable body of law over time. UNCLOS unifies the four Geneva Conventions into a single instrument. This treaty unified existing international law and established new maritime law and organizations. In terms of substance, however, it goes much further than the four. The “new” law of the sea, for example, expands the rights of coastal governments in both descriptive and analytical aspects, in some cases significantly.

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) was formed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 as an independent legal authority. It has jurisdiction over any dispute arising out of the Convention’s interpretation or application, as well as those topics expressly provided for in any other agreement conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal.
  • The UNCLOS also has a separate legal body known as the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UNDOALOS) which provides nations and global institutions a variety of legal and technical services relevant to the UNCLOS, such as information and assistance as well as conducting research and compiling studies for proper implementation,


  1. To encourage the peaceful usage of the oceans and seas.
  2. To make international communication easier.
  3. To make ocean resources fairer and more efficient to use.
  4. The aquatic ecosystem must be protected and preserved.
  5. The goal is to increase maritime safety.

Maritime Areas under UNCLOS

  1. Territorial Sea
    A coastal State’s territorial sea is limited to 12 nautical miles from its baseline. The coastal State has complete authority over the air space above the sea, as well as the seabed and subsoil, within this zone. An innocent passage is a name given to this form of territorial transit by foreign ships. The right to innocent passage can, however, be prohibited if the maritime state’s security is jeopardized. However, the coastal state has certain obligations, such as Article 21(1) – (4) of UNCLOS, Constitution requires the coastal state to implement relevant laws protecting the right to innocent passage. That is to say, the coastal state has the responsibility to safeguard the safety of innocent passage under Article 22(1) of UNCLOS.
    Innocent Passage (Article 17 of UNCLOS) – Passage is legal as long as it does not jeopardize the coastal state’s peace, good order, or security. To put it another way, the vessel exercising its right of an innocent passage should not represent a substantial and intolerable threat to the coastal state.
  2. Continuous Zone
    The contiguous zone Article 33 of UNCLOS is the area of the sea beyond and adjacent to a coastal state’s territorial sea. It may not exceed the breadth of the territorial sea, which is estimated at 24 miles. Contiguous zones provide the coastal state with an extra-jurisdictional territory for restricted reasons. The authority that a coastal state has over this region is confined to the prohibition of conduct that might violate its customs, fiscal, and immigration regulations. It can also intervene if any action in the adjacent zone jeopardizes territorial norms.
  3. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
    Exclusive Economic Zone or Patrimonial Sea (Article 55 of UNCLOS) is a territory outside and near to the territorial sea that is subject to the legal system, under which the coastal State’s rights and jurisdiction, as well as the rights and freedoms of other States, are controlled by the provisions relating of this Convention. The EEZ is a belt of the sea next to the shore that stretches up to 200 miles from the territorial sea’s baselines.
  4. High Seas
    The section of the sea that is not included in the exclusive economic zone, territorial sea, internal waters of a coastal state, or archipelagic waters of an archipelagic state is known as the high seas (Article 87 of UNCLOS). All governments have access to the high seas for the purposes of navigation, overflight, artificial island construction, fishing, and scientific study. The high seas are designated for peaceful international navigation. Slavery, piracy, ship confiscation, illicit drugs trafficking, and unlawful broadcasting have all been prohibited by legislation.
  5. Continental Shelf
    The continental shelf [Article 76(1) of UNCLOS] is defined as a region whose outer border is not more than 350 nautical miles from the baseline or 100 nautical miles from the isobath at 2500 meters. In this area, the coastal state has exclusive rights to explore and develop its natural resources. The state also has sole authority to permit and control any shelf drilling for whatever reason.

Concluding Observations

After analyzing the above study, it can be concluded that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has provided the strategical framework to govern the International Law of the Sea. It can be considered that the UNCLOS has comprehensively described the extent to which a state’s sovereignty extends to the sea’s edge for a peaceful usage of the water bodies for all nations which clearly eliminates the idea of conflicts between them.

Written by Hemant Bohra student at School of Law, Lovely Professional University, Punjab.

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